Kura (鞍), is the generic name for the Japanese saddle. The word "kura" is most commonly associated with the saddle used by the samurai class of feudal Japan. Over time the Japanese added elements of their own until the Japanese saddle became an identifiable style, also known as the samurai saddle.
The Japanese were known to be using the Chinese style of saddle during the Nara period (AD 710 to 794), but during the Heian (794 to 1185), changes made to the Chinese saddle led to what we now call the kura or Japanese saddle. The Chinese style saddle is known as karagura while the Japanese style is known as yamatogura.
In the fourth century AD, the Japanese started using horses in warfare. Cavalry proved to be decisive in the Jinshin War of 672–73, in Fujiwara no Hirotsugu's rebellion in 740 and in the revolt of Fujiwara no Nakamaro in 756.
Samurai warriors increasingly used horses, and rode two types of kura: the suikangura or "aristocratic saddle", and the gunjingura, or war saddle. The main weapon of early samurai warfare was the yumi (bow) and the kura provided a rugged, stable, comfortable platform for shooting arrows. However, the design was not well suited for speed or distance. The introduction of firearms in Japan in 1543 eventually led to the development of the Japanese matchlock (tanegashima) which supplanted the yumi as the weapon of choice by the samurai. As a result, horse-mounted samurai were no longer the main military force. During the Edo period (1603 to 1868) horses were no longer needed for warfare and the samurai started using highly decorated kura with colored lacquers, and extensive intricate inlays and leather work. Mounted samurai became a ceremonial presence in the entourages of processions by their daimyō (feudal lord).
Riding in a saddle was reserved for the samurai class until the end of the samurai era in 1868. Lower classes would ride on a pack saddle (ni-gura or konida-gura) or bareback. Pack horses (ni-uma or konida-uma) carried a variety of merchandise and the baggage of travelers using a pack saddle that ranged from a basic wooden frame to the elaborate pack saddles used for the semi-annual processions (sankin-kōtai) of daimyōs. Pack horses also carried the equipment and food for samurai warriors during military campaigns. With the end of the samurai era and beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912), non-samurai were allowed to openly ride horses and eventually the Japanese adopted saddles of styles seen in the occidental world. Saddles used by Japanese officers during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) are described as being based on civilian English saddles.